Halted Power Plants Anger N. Korea

North Korea said Tuesday it will seize equipment for two nuclear power plants being built in the country, until the United States pays a "penalty" for its decision to stop their construction.

Last week, the United States, South Korea, Japan and the European Union tentatively decided to suspend work at Kumho, a remote northeastern coastal village where they have been building two light-water reactors to generate badly needed electricity for the impoverished state.

They say that halting the $4.6 billion project is inevitable because North Korea has violated a 1994 agreement by secretly building nuclear weapons.

North Korea claimed again Tuesday that the United States had first violated the 1994 agreement, in which two power-generating reactors were promised in return for a freezing of the North's Soviet-designed reactors, suspected of being used for weapons development.

"The U.S. should pay damages for the breach of contract without delay," a spokesman of North Korea's Foreign Ministry told its official news agency, KCNA.

"We will never allow the U.S. to take out facilities, equipment and materials for the light water reactor construction and technical documents now in the Kumho area unless the U.S. pays a penalty," it said.

North Korea made a similar threat last week. Tuesday's statement came after Washington urged the North to permit the removal of equipment from Kumho.

A standoff over North Korea's nuclear ambitions began a year ago, when U.S. officials said the country admitted running a secret nuclear program based on enriched uranium.

North Korea has denied having such a program. It says Washington created the nuclear crisis to stifle the isolated country and demands that Washington compensate it for economic losses caused by delays in building the nuclear power plants.

China is optimistic that another round of six-nation talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis will be held before the end of the year, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

The first round, held in Beijing in August, involved the United States, China, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia. That summit ended with an agreement to meet again, but no date was set.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said "if everything goes smoothly and differences between the various parties can be narrowed, we are positive there is hope to see the six-party talks within this year."

By Sang-Hun Choe